Certificate programs in legal administration call for a year or less of study and sometimes allow students to gain experience through an internship. Associate's degree programs require two years to complete and include general education courses in addition to courses in office procedures. These programs generally offer paralegal training, covering topics such as the judicial system, legal terminology and preparing legal documents.
Legal Administrative Assistant Certificate
These programs are designed to prepare individuals for entry-level clerical positions in a variety of office dynamics, including law, insurance, real estate and governmental offices. The coursework focuses on clerical functions such as data entry, electronic presentations, business document formatting, proofreading, filing and bookkeeping. Some programs feature an internship, where the certificate candidate works in an affiliated law office for class credit. These programs can generally be completed in one year or less.
There are generally no specific admissions requirements for these programs, outside of completing the admissions application. Admittance is often determined by class size and seat availability, since these programs tend to be popular. Some programs may require high school transcripts or their equivalent. Other programs feature English and math placement tests, to determine basic abilities.
The curriculum deals exclusively with the skills and knowledge needed to function as a legal administrative assistant. There are usually no electives outside of the legal course concentration. Below are listed some sample core courses:
- Legal Terminology
- Computer Applications
- Data Management
- Office Systems
Associate's Degree in Legal Administrative Assistance
These programs are also known as paralegal studies programs. The curriculum often features general education courses in the first year, followed by legal education courses in the second year. The purpose of these programs is to train individuals to handle substantive legal work, including drafting and composing legal documents and researching and preparing legal summaries. Individuals also learn basic office functions such as filing, keyboarding and proofreading.
Individuals submit high school transcripts along with an admissions application. Other requirements such as standardized test scores, letters of recommendation or a personal interview are infrequently required. Some programs may require a criminal background check.
In addition to the core paralegal coursework, degree candidates also enroll in general education electives such as accounting or public speaking. Listed below are some sample core course titles:
- Business Correspondence
- Legal Transcription
- State Court Rules
- Business Grammar
- Advanced Legal Terminology
Popular Career Options
In addition to training individuals for legal administrative assistant positions, these programs can provide a wealth of other clerical employment opportunities. The following are some sample job titles:
- Litigation secretary
- Deputy court administrator
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for paralegals and legal assistants were expected to increase by 8% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). This increase is a reflection of the fact that paralegals are assuming responsibilities formerly handled by lawyers. The BLS also stated that the median annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants was $48,810, as of May 2015.
Training and Certification Information
Certification is not generally required for paralegals or legal assistants. However, voluntary certification is available and may serve to increase employment or promotion opportunities. The National Association of Legal Assistants offers one popular pathway to certification. The process includes completion of an accredited educational program along with passing a two-part exam. A certain amount of continuing education credits are necessary for recertification (www.nala.org).
Along with the formal education programs, paralegals and legal assistants may receive considerable on-the-job training. Some law firms and corporate law offices train legal administrative assistants to be paralegals, bypassing the traditional educational pathway. Individuals considering a paralegal career should be prepared for a rigorous training period, once a job is found.
There are a few ways to get the training needed to serve as a paralegal or legal assistant. While the minimum is earning a legal administrative assistant certificate, that only covers the basics of the career, so many students go on to earn an associate's degree in the field.